City's Gateway Center to open for women only

·3 min read

Feb. 28—When the city of Albuquerque's years-in-the-making homeless shelter finally opens, it will cater exclusively to women — and it will maintain that focus for the undetermined future.

The city has decided to launch the Gateway Center in Southeast Albuquerque with 50 beds for women. While officials have in the past described the Gateway as a 24/7 operation to aid anyone regardless of gender, religion or sobriety, they say starting exclusively with women makes the most sense from a resources perspective.

There are about twice as many "unsheltered" men as women in Albuquerque, according to an official 2021 count. But Elizabeth Holguin, the city's deputy director for homeless solutions, said that there are disproportionately fewer emergency shelter beds for women throughout the city — 155 compared to 463 for men, with another 107 that are flexible. She said the Gateway will help address that gap.

The women-only program also takes into account the dangers women face on the street, she said.

"We're committed to social justice and equity, and equity does really mean prioritizing the most vulnerable individuals in our society," she said. "From our data we've seen homeless women are much more vulnerable than the general population and more vulnerable than homeless men as well."

The city aims to open the shelter by the end of 2022. Officials say the facility should eventually accommodate up to 100 adults and 25 families, but beds for men and families will come in later phases. Officials presently have no timeline for those future phases.

The city is now actively seeking an organization to run the shelter. It has just released a request for proposals in an attempt to find a nonprofit operating partner. A spokeswoman said the goal is to make the selection by May.

Despite outsourcing operations, city staff will maintain a presence inside the facility.

The Gateway Center shelter is part of what the city has branded the "Gibson Health Hub" at the old Lovelace hospital in Southeast Albuquerque. In addition to the overnight beds, the city aims to have on-site services in the 572,000-square-foot facility. Some medical and behavioral health providers are already operating inside, having been existing tenants when the city bought the building last year.

Mayor Tim Keller has been touting the importance of a Gateway Center since his last term — and city voters in 2019 approved $14 million in bond money to get it started — but the project has encountered turbulence. The city failed to secure its first site choice, forcing a reevaluation of the initial plans. It subsequently decided to use the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson SE, but that purchase prompted a since-settled lawsuit and sparked some intense neighborhood opposition.

Last year, a zoning hearing examiner granted the city the necessary approval to use the old hospital as an "overnight shelter," which some nearby neighborhood associations appealed. A land-use hearing officer who heard their appeal earlier this month recommended that the City Council deny the appeal. But he also determined the city's application was "mislabeled" — rather than an overnight shelter, the Gateway Center qualifies as a large group home. He determined that it must now go back through the zoning hearing examiner process to resolve what he called a "narrow," lingering question about whether it met a specific zoning code standard for that use.

"This is an important project for Albuquerque," the city's Family & Community Services Director Carol Pierce said in a statement. "We are eager to move forward and hope this clarification around terminology will be resolved soon."